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Kaine challenger prompts laughter by saying Trump is 'standing up' to Russia

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By Ben Jacobs in Washington, The Guardian

The first US Senate debate in Virginia went mostly according to script on Saturday, with few of the fireworks some thought likely from a meeting between a Trumpist challenger and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 vice-presidential pick.

The challenger, Corey Stewart, a far-right elected official in northern Virginia, repeatedly praised Donald Trump and attacked his opponent as “weak” and “an ultra-liberal”, automatically opposed to every action of the Trump administration.

Tim Kaine repeatedly called Stewart “a 100% Donald Trump first guy” while describing himself as a “Virginia first guy”.

[post_ads]At the end of a week which began with Trump’s controversial meeting with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki and continued with the president’s hectic attempts to clarify his position on Russia, there were strident disagreements about the Mueller investigation and US relations with Moscow.

Stewart referred to the special counsel’s work as “a witch-hunt” and described Russian interference in the 2016 election as “alleged meddling”. He drew laughter from the audience when he proclaimed: “We have a president who is standing up to the Russians.”

Stewart also struck a deeply Trumpist note by bashing European countries, who he said were “supposedly our allies and they need to start acting like it”.

Kaine defended Mueller and said the president was “caving to Russians”. Trump picked fights with allies like Canada, the UK and Germany, he said, and then, when on stage with Putin, “went all soft”.

Both threw out sharper jabs. Kaine raised Stewart’s past associations with white supremacists such as the Wisconsin congressional candidate Paul Nehlen and his campaigning for Roy Moore, the losing Senate candidate in Alabama last year who was accused of sexually assaulting underaged teenage girls.

Moore denied those allegations and Stewart stood by him, saying: “We had 40-year-old allegations. What bothered me about that was that [the] leftwing and media just presumed that he was guilty.”

Afterwards, in an interview with moderator Judy Woodruff, Stewart insisted Moore was innocent of all the allegations against him. “He didn’t do it,” he said.

In the debate, he repeated that he has disavowed Nehlen, a sometime challenger to the House speaker, Paul Ryan. Stewart once called Nehlen “a personal hero”.

Related: ‘It’s pretty lonely out here’: why John Kasich is willing to criticize Trump

In a November 2017 video shot at the Trump Hotel in Washington and first reported by CNN’s KFile, Stewart appeared with Nehlen and the two praised each other. The clip surfaced months after Nehlen shared positive retweets about a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, in which a counter-protester was killed.
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On Saturday, Stewart attacked Kaine for standing by Leslie Cockburn, a Democratic congressional candidate in Virginia who co-wrote a book the New York Times called “Israel-bashing for its own sake”.

Kaine said: “You can be critical of someone’s foreign policy and not be an anti-Semite”. He added: “I don’t have to agree with her foreign policies; her foreign policy views aren’t necessarily mine.”

In response to a follow-up question, a spokesman for Kaine told the Guardian: “He said he doesn’t agree with every foreign policy position. I do not believe he has read her book.”

The most recent polling in the Senate race, from June, has Kaine leading by 54% to 36%. Virginia is a swing state but the Cook Political Report identifies the race as “solid Democratic”.

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Politics - U.S. Daily News: Kaine challenger prompts laughter by saying Trump is 'standing up' to Russia
Kaine challenger prompts laughter by saying Trump is 'standing up' to Russia
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